Author : Rishav Jalan

Rishav works as an intern at Fun2Do Labs. Rishav got All India Rank (AIR) 1 in class 12th in Commerce (ISC) and had secured 99.25% marks in 2018. Rishav has studied from Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC), Delhi University

Are you a student who puts in hours and hours of effort into studying, and yet struggles with getting that desired result on your report card?

Or are you a concerned parent worried about your child’s academic progress?

Yes? Keep reading on.

I am a final year student at India’s prestigious Shri Ram College of Commerce. I was fortunate to secure the All India Rank 1 in the Commerce stream in my ISC examinations. Having experienced the world of opportunities that a good educational outcome opened for me, there’s no doubt about the progress that effective learning practices bring with them.

I have observed countless students, straight from primary to higher secondary level, adopting ineffective learning practices and eventually getting sucked into a vicious loop of subpar performance, disappointment and unproductive learning. By means of this blog post, I intend to revisit the months I spent preparing for the so-called dreaded board exams and share some valuable (although unorthodox) tricks of the trade.

  1. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail

You can’t score a goal if there is no goalpost. Planning helps you draw a roadmap. Without planning, there’s no way to ascertain if you are moving on the right track and at the right pace. Guilt is oftentimes a good motivator. You wouldn’t even feel guilty for being a wasteman if there’s no plan to nudge you towards that guilt.

Plan ahead of time. The amount of work you have to put in daily is simply a function of the quantum of syllabus you have to cover divided by the number of days you have at your disposal. This would give you a reasonable indication to begin charting your timeline.

  1. Hours are irrelevant, output matters

Remember, results are not proportional to the hours you put in. They are relative to the learning you manage to derive. For the larger part of my preparation, I used to study for just 5-7 hours a day. In fact, I never really kept track of the hours I used to put in. 

You have got to be output driven. Your goal at the end of the day should be to cover the portion you planned for – whether you manage to do so in 4 hours or 8 is absolutely up to you. You’d be surprised to see how much more you can absorb in a lesser duration when studying at peak concentration. 

  1. Compromising on conceptual clarity is almost criminal

While some subjects might require you to memorise stuff, don’t miss out on conceptual clarity. You aren’t really studying if you don’t have substantial clarity on the topic. Don’t take information at face value. Be analytical, embrace doubts and get all your questions clarified. 

In subjects like economics and literature, you have to essentially explain your understanding of the topic to the invigilator. Meanwhile, subjects like maths and accounts require you to apply your understanding to a tailor-made problem. The difference between ordinary and extraordinary oftentimes lies in this bit of crystal clear understanding.

  1. Work towards a goal, but never put it on a pedestal

The months spent preparing for board examinations can be arduous and long drawn out. As such, it helps to have a goal to keep you motivated. Personally, since I had the ambition to get into SRCC, I used to have a photo of the institution’s monumental building with the words – “Easy? Nope. Worth It? Absolutely” written on top of it. This photo, saved on my phone, frequently used to be the final push I needed to get up and going. Find what motivates you and use that to derive the energy you need.

There is a but to this though. Don’t exalt an ambition to such a pedestal that it becomes negatively overpowering. Ambitions are meant to help you work harder, not to bog you down with uncalled for pressure. Keep this in mind.

  1. Don’t fit square pegs into round holes

There’s no one fits all to the learning process. Don’t blindly copy what seems to be working for others. Feel free to try different approaches out, sure, but choose what works for you.

I used to study late into the night while my friend would wake up early in the morning. We both did well.

I used to read aloud while studying literature and make summary notes for my commerce paper. Why? Simply because they worked well for me. See what helps you learn better, and double down on that.

  1. Work hard but be smart

There’s no other way around hard work, but whether or not you channelise that hard work smartly goes a long way in determining success. Allow me to share a personal example to drive the point home. I used to dislike economics, a lot. My dislike was driven primarily by a tendency to dig deeper into the subject matter, and get entangled into a web of doubts. While I understood the surface meaning, I couldn’t understand the underlying link between different chapters. As my exams approached, I pulled out past question papers and identified the pattern of the questions. I realised most of the questions were pretty straightforward. Given that the short-term objective was getting a good result, I kept those of my doubts aside which did not have a real bearing on the paper. Preparing in lines with the question pattern helped me get a perfect score on a paper I never liked in the first place!

  1. Reward yourself for the little wins

You must have something to destress yourself. None of us are robots wired to work persistently without exhaustion. Take a break after every study period. Utilise this time to do anything that gets you recharged. Going out for a walk? Sure. Watching your favourite show? Why not. Talking to a friend? Go ahead. 

At the same time, it is completely alright to take a day off, especially when you are burnt out from studying for days and days prior to that. Don’t spend your day off under the guilt of not studying. That doesn’t serve any purpose. A day free of studying (and the thought thereof) can be valuable in terms of getting you recharged for the weeks of learning ahead.

  1. The internet is your friend, not your enemy

Utilise the internet well, and it can be the teacher you never had. With the explosion of content, there’s no topic that doesn’t have free educational content made for it. Platforms like Khan Academy have made education easier, accessible and universal. Put them to good use. Additionally, there are forums where you can get your doubts cleared. In a digitally empowered age like ours, there is no dearth of resources for students like us to bank on.

  1. Forget about anything that is beyond your control

This is something that I believe used to separate me from the lot. Forget about the exam, the questions, the topics you studied and the ones you didn’t – as soon as you step out of the examination room. There’s no merit in discussing each and every question, getting excited at your correct answers and even more so, dejected at the incorrect ones. As long as you did everything you could, be proud of yourself and move on. Get home, relax, rest, enjoy and get going with the next paper. Keep things simple.

  1. Mutual understanding between a parent and a child is paramount

The understanding that has always existed between my parents and me is part of the reason I could study well, free of undue expectations and pressure. My parents never had to push me to study, because I was responsible enough towards my own learning. I recognized the longer-term payoff from studying well now, and that was enough incentive to keep me intrinsically motivated. At the same time, I was respectful of the trust my parents had extended to me and the freedom and flexibility to go about my studies in a manner I deemed best. I was inherently obligated to live up to that trust. 

The message here is that a symbiotic relationship of trust between a child and a parent can go a long way. Granted, a parent might need to nudge his/her child every now and then to help him/her course correct. But, at the same time, I would encourage parents to create a positive and reaffirming environment where the child feels responsible to take ownership of his learning. Likewise, students have an obligation to their parents to put in their best foot forward, and progress in a persistent manner.

And, that’s it! There’s no complicated formula for doing well. Perseverance is non-negotiable, but a lot of it has to do with the mindset. Learn to centre yourself. The hardwork and the late-nights (and early mornings) may sometimes get difficult to cope with, but when the perseverance pays off, you’d pride yourself on those very moments. 

Students have a tendency to look at education from a narrow perspective of grades and marks. We tend to question the relevance of studying literature and history and trigonometry. While I am not one to comment on the curriculum, education has played a massive role in adding to my value system, making me disciplined, helping me form perspectives and most importantly, increasing my capacity to absorb more knowledge. These are invaluable traits that have held me in good stead, as they would for you.

Embrace learning. You are amongst the privileged few who can.